ATLANTA — Otto Porter Jr. has had a massive impact on the Bulls’ soul.
Their 5-3 record since he came on board is an obvious consequence. His attitude, his shot-making, his size — which makes switching seamless — and his dog mentality on defense have generated a true esprit de corps.
“I can’t say I did,’’ coach Jim Boylen said Thursday when asked if he thought Porter would be so influential so quickly. “I would not be telling you the truth. I’m thankful for it, but I didn’t see it coming.’’
That’s because a player’s intangibles often aren’t felt until he’s in that locker room.
Jabari Parker was signed to a two-year, $40 million contract during the summer and boasted that he wasn’t paid to play defense, which he backed up once training camp and the regular season started.
Parker and Bobby Portis were sent packing to the Wizards for Porter, who came in with playoff experience and a contract that pays him $26 million this season and $27.2 million next season with a player option at $28.4 million for the 2020-21 season. Big money, no doubt. But the new highest-paid Bull is willing to dive after loose balls, wants to defend the best players and plays the game unselfishly.
Those just might be his most inspirational attributes.
“That’s not something you think of right away, but it does send a message,’’ starting forward Lauri Markkanen said. “I feel like we’re all trying to be two-way players. I know I feel like I can do so much better on the defensive end. [Porter] does do the small things that help us. By him doing the little things, it demands that we all do it.’’
Obviously, Parker’s play never conveyed that message.
Zach LaVine might be the player most affected by Porter’s presence because now there’s a Bull in a higher tax bracket, playing the game the right way and demanding that his teammates follow. Not just by his words but by his actions.
If Parker was poisoning the atmosphere, Porter already has cleaned it up.
“[Porter’s] play is very important,’’ Boylen said. “But what I want to build is a team, not a collection of All-Stars. He helps us be a team. That’s exciting to me. With his attitude, with his play, with his intelligence, with his versatility. Obviously, it’s great when he makes a three. Obviously, it’s great when he stops a run by them and makes a big play, gets a gap steal, and we’re off and running, makes the right decision. Those things are all great, but his ownership of the team’s work ethic, practice habits, his voice in the huddle, that’s what we’re starting to get.’’
But don’t ask the mild-mannered Porter about it.
“We’re trying to get W’s and build for the future and start something new for this organization,’’ Porter said. “I’m just focused on the future.’’
It’s a future that just might contain some solid veteran leadership.
Not only is Porter moving forward with this rebuild, but Boylen said the organization would welcome free agent-to-be Robin Lopez back as well next season.
“I would love to have [Lopez] back,’’ Boylen said. “But I want him to be happy in his role, too.’’